Inmate acquitted for Feb. 1 riot, murder to sue state

Deric Forney

DOVER — Deric Forney, an inmate recently found not guilty of participating in the 2017 Vaughn prison riot, has decided to sue the state, according to Dover attorney Stephen Hampton.

In late October, Mr. Hampton announced a lawsuit against the state on behalf of more than 100 inmates housed in Vaughn prison’s C Building (the site of the riot) during the incident.

The 80-page complaint alleges “inhumane conditions” at Vaughn and claims that for many years prior to the riot that left Correctional Officer Lt. Steven Floyd dead, prison personnel “illegally abused, mistreated and tortured inmates with virtually nothing being done by their JTVCC (Vaughn prison) or Department of Correction (DOC) supervisors, to stop them.” Further, the suit alleges the inmates in questions were savagely beaten during the siege of C Building and have been systematically “tortured and mistreated” in the wake of the riot.

Though the 18 inmates indicted with perpetrating the riot were not originally included in the civil suit, Forney will now be added since he’s been acquitted.

“Deric has contacted us and we expect to add him to the complaint when it is amended within the next three weeks,” said Mr. Hampton.

Delaware Gov. John Carney and ex-DOC Commissioner Robert Coupe were among the defendants named in the suit, along with current commissioner Perry Phelps, several wardens and a host of other DOC staff from a Major to COs.

The governor’s office has accused Mr. Hampton of “litigating that case in the newspaper” and refused to comment further.

“As we’ve said all along, Gov. Carney takes any allegations of abuse seriously, and any suggestion otherwise is false,” Governor’s office spokesman Jonathan Starkey has said. “Because the matter is now in the courts there will be no further comment at this time.”

The DOC has been similarly reticent on the subject.

“The DOC doesn’t comment on active litigation,” agency spokeswoman Jayme Gravell has said.

However, Mr. Hampton has maintained that the systematic abuse of inmates continues.

“The inmates are receiving woefully inadequate medical care and some are getting greatly reduced food portions,” he said. “The abusive strip searches and threats have continued and hundreds of inmates are being shipped out of state. It seems that almost two years after the revolt, DOC has failed to correct any of its ongoing serious problems, and if anything, they are worse than ever. DOC management has allowed intolerable conditions for inmates and correctional officers to continue unaddressed and shouldn’t be surprised that nobody with a choice wants to work for DOC.”

Forney’s acquittal

Coming to a verdict after a nearly five-week trial in November, the jury found Forney not guilty of conspiracy, murder, riot, assault and kidnapping in association with the 2017 incident. However, the inmates being tried alongside him, Dwayne Staats and Jarreau Ayers, picked up several convictions. Both men were already serving life sentences.

Forney, now 29, was originally convicted on gun charges and tier one possession and sentenced to 11 years in prison back in 2013, according to DOC records. Vinelink, Delaware’s prisoner locater platform, indicates that Forney is currently being held again at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center and is scheduled for release in February 2023.

From the demeanor of Forney’s testimony during the criminal trial, it’s perhaps not surprising to see him join the lawsuit against the state. During the defendants’ opportunity to answer the prosecution in late November, Forney opted to have his attorney, Ben Gifford, question him on the stand about the events of Feb. 1, 2017.

During his testimony he flatly denied all prior knowledge of and participation in the riot.

Being moved to C Building just over a month before the riot, Forney said he stayed in his cell for the duration of the uprising until it was put down in the early hours of Feb. 2, 2017.

However, he grew emotional on the stand describing the Correctional Emergency Response Team’s (CERT) siege of the building — claiming he was roughly taken to the floor of his cell and beaten despite not resisting and attempting to peacefully surrender.

Shortly after Forney’s not guilty verdict was delivered last November, Mr. Gifford said he too believed his client was unjustly assaulted by authorities.

“My personal feeling is that Deric, like most of the inmates in C Building that day, had no control or authority over what was going on and were helpless to stop the rioters from doing what they were doing,” Mr. Gifford said at the time. “Nevertheless, he — again like many of the inmates — was essentially brutalized when DOC took the building back without any regard as to whether he was a perpetrator or victim of what was happening. It’s also worth noting that the ‘victim vs. perpetrator’ distinction is really unnecessary, as no one deserved to be assaulted by the authorities, regardless of what they think the inmates may have done.”

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